The Morning After April 17

For the longest time in my mid- to late-20s, I dated women. Then towards the end of that decade, I found myself seeing a man.  It was nothing serious – just shags and giggles.  He was never my boyfriend; I was never his girlfriend.  One night we popped out to the supermarket, probably to pick up some more wine.  We climbed out of the bloke’s ute, and as we crossed the parking lot, he took my hand.

And I freaked.

When I’d dated women, yes, I’d held hands with them in public.  But there was always a risk to this.  We’d get curious looks or words hurled at us – “lesbians!” “fucking dykes” “pussylickers” – and we’d worry about something worse happening.  A decision to hold hands in public was always a negotiation, a thoughtful “Is it OK?  Is it worth the level of risk in this particular instance?” Strolling to brunch on Ponsonby Rd when there was virtually no risk, we’d hold hands with no hesitation, a declaration of “yes, we can hold hands here, and hooray that we can hold hands here.”  In less welcoming environments, we may just quietly brush our fingers, a way of saying “I’d be holding your hand now if I felt safe to do so.”

So being able to hold hands with someone I wasn’t even that into in a supermarket parking lot in South Auckland like it wasn’t a thing felt utterly alien to me, and I just felt so fucking ill that he did it without even thinking about it – a natural action, to take my hand.  And an enormous privilege that I hadn’t had with the women I’d dated.  We’d evoke no curious glances, no threatening glares, no vile words.  People wouldn’t even look twice at he and I holding hands.  And that made me feel so uncomfortable – that in this instance, because he was male and I was female, our holding hands was a completely accepted, even expected, act.

That’s little bit like being engaged felt to me.  I was always aware that it was one of those privileges that I had simply because I’d happened to fall in love with a man, and that did not sit well with me.  I was clear from the start that we’d only actually be getting married if marriage equality was a reality by the time of our wedding – something which my fiance took absolutely zero convincing on.  He has his own reasons for feeling strongly about marriage equality.

There was a lot of talk about words during the marriage equality debate – about how same-sex couples should be OK accepting civil unions only, how “marriage” as a word has always been defined as between and man and a woman throughout all time and cultures, how it’s definition had never changed and never ought to change*.  There were fears that words like “bride” and “groom”, “husband” and “wife” would disappear, and people felt strongly about that because those are incredibly powerful, meaningful words.

There is the none-too-small fact that married couples are able to adopt, while civilly united couples are not.  However, like I imagine the vast majority of couples, we don’t plan to adopt, so there is no appreciable legal difference between the two relationship solemnisation options for us.  Therefore, our desire to be married rather than civilly united is entirely down to words.  We want to be married. I want my fiance to be my husband; he wants me to be his wife.  I even want to be (ack, I can’t believe I’m saying this) a bride!  Yes, we could have a civil union ceremony and just use those words anyway, but that would feel to me like a bit of a charade.  Besides, the one bum note at the beautiful civil union ceremonies I’ve been to is always the “I now pronounce you partners in civil union.”  Which I’ve always felt lacks the poetry and gravitas of “I now pronounce you husband and wife” or “I now pronounce you wife and wife” or even simply “I now pronounce you married”.  As I’ve said before, words are powerful.  Words are what this debate was all about.  And I wanted those words, and my fiance wanted those words.  Just not at the cost of sublimating aspects of ourselves, and not at the cost of feeling like a privileged other to some of the people we hold dearest.

So the morning after April 17th, the morning after the bill Marriage Amendment Act had been voted into law, I woke up full of joy and peace about getting married for the first time.  Because it’s no longer a privilege my fiance and I are lucky enough to enjoy because I happen to be female and he happens to be male.  It’s not something we get to choose that our gay friends and relatives don’t.  It’s open to anyone who wants it, and it doesn’t deny any part of either of us.  And that makes it so much more meaningful for both of us.

___________

* To which I simply say: “snort!”

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Two Thoughts on Marriage

My best friend Ramona and I were lucky enough to meet and fall in love with wonderful people within weeks of each other.  It really was a fabulous stroke of luck, because for the previous several years, through Ramona’s unwilling celibacy and my promiscuous-without-attachment days, Ramona and I had been near inseparable.  We spent huge chunks of our spare time together, we helped each other shift, we rang each other if we’d had a shit day, we were each others plus-ones at weddings.  In a whole lot of ways, we were like a couple – just without the sex.  Our friends even referred to us as each other’s “wives”.  So I think that if one of us had fallen head-over-heels in love and the other hadn’t, it would have been difficult on our friendship.  As it stands, the anniversaries of our respective relationships are just over a month apart.  We are still extremely important parts of each other’s lives, but we’re not the inseparable twosome we once were.

Because Ramona fell in love with a woman and I fell in love with a man, only one of us is allowed to marry our partner.

Although opponents of marriage equality would like to pretend it is, it’s not a damn thing to do with Christianity or the Bible: marriage is not and has never been the exclusive domain of the church.  It’s not a damn thing to do with children or the family unit: my love and I have no intention of having babies or raising a family; Ramona is already acting as a step-parent to her partner’s children.  They can twist it whichever way they like, what they’re essentially saying – in either weasel words or outright – is that same-sex couples are not worthy of marriage.

The thought that ANYONE would think that my relationship is somehow more worthy, more important, more real than Ramona’s infuriates and sickens me.  It makes me quiver with rage.  It makes me wonder at whether their hearts and minds are fully functional.  To see two people in love who want to be married and to deny them that right requires an incredible lack of heart.  To think that gender of the people involved makes any difference to the quality of the love requires, yes, a lack of intelligence.

*

This notion that marriage is a purely heterosexual institution because heterosexual relationships are more important than homosexual relationships makes marriage less relevant to me.  Not just because it excludes Ramona and many other people I love, but because it excludes a huge chunk of my history.  I have dated women, loved women, contemplated living happily-ever-after with women.  I was banned from taken my girlfriend to my high school formal (but did so anyway, daring the chaperones to make a scene).  I’ve seen the disappointment on my mother’s face when I told her I was a lesbian (clearly I’m not any more. It’s a long story which you can find elsewhere on my blog).   I’ve been spat on in the street and called a pussylicker (it took me several moments to click that it was supposed to be an insult).  Frozen in shock, I watched my sister chase the woman who spat at me down the street, screaming at her in defence of me.  I’ve shagged women in the toilets at gay clubs, attended queer youth groups, played in a lesbian sports team, held my girlfriend’s hand walking down the street after dark in mid-90s small-town New Zealand, scared but full of “fuck you” bravado.

For me marry as marriage stands, as the so-called defendants of marriage want it to be, denies all this history.  It says it is not worthy, just like Ramona’s relationship is not worthy and thousands of other same-sex relationships are not worthy.

And to that I say, where is your heart and where is your mind?